With This Ring' brings popular novel to life 10 years later

Authors discuss the book's lasting themes and long road to the silver screen

Tuesday January 20, 2015 04:00 am EST

Unlike most books published in 2005, The Vow: A Novel, written by then New Yorkers Angela Burt-Murray, Denene Millner, and Mitzi Miller, looked well on its way to the big screen. Actress Gabrielle Union, who later bought the film rights, even hosted the book's launch party. And, now, after so many false starts, it's finally the TV movie "With This Ring." And Atlanta transplants Millner and Burt-Murray couldn't be happier.

"Every writer I think who writes a book can envision their work in a different medium," says Millner, who moved to Atlanta with her husband and children the same year of the book's release. What they weren't prepared for, says Burt-Murray, who also relocated to the city from New York with her husband and kids, is the wait.

It had been so long that Burt-Murray greeted last summer's news that the film was a go at last with ambivalence. "They said things were moving, but it had been 10 years," explains the former Essence editor-in-chief while nestled in the love seat of her cozy Midtown office for the African-American, female-targeted website CocoaFab. The site is the cornerstone of the digital media and consulting firm Cocoa Media Group she co-founded over three years ago. There had been so much inaction Burt-Murray says, "I didn't even tell my parents anymore."

That, of course, was a far cry from how it all began. In a true New York City brainstorm that would make "Sex in the City"'s resident scribe Carrie Bradshaw proud, the massive idea hit Burt-Murray, then managing editor at Teen People magazine, while riding in the back of a New York cab. Both Millner and Miller, who had helped Burt-Murray pen 2004's The Angry Black Woman's Guide to Life, were immediately onboard. Translating their real-life estrogen musketeerism into a page-turner about three women who, as bridesmaids at their best friend's wedding, vow that a year later each will catwalk down the aisle, was a blast, Burt-Murray and Millner admit. It's an experience the former said she appreciated even more after writing her novel Games Divas Play, released last summer, completely solo.

For the story in The Vow and corresponding "With This Ring," each woman adopted a character as their own. For Millner, it was successful gossip columnist Viviane played by Jill Scott, whom she initially envisioned in the role back in the writing stage; Burt-Murray's charge was Trista (Regina Hall), the single and driven Hollywood talent agent with ex-boyfriend issues; and Miller's Amaya, the hip-hop-esque struggling actress entangled with a wealthy, married man (played by former Atlanta Falcons and Braves star Deion Sanders) brought to life by rapper Eve.

But attitudes change and what was fresh 10 years ago may need discarding now. Perhaps few know this as well as Millner, who broke into the big-time nearly 20 years ago by answering the popular old-school dating guide The Rules with her own The Sistahs' Rules. Millner advised women to ignore "rules" like returning a man's call three days later and take a more active role in dating. While The Vow is definitely more contemporary than her first book, Millner, who has now penned over 20 titles, admits that relationship convos have even shifted since then.

"From the time that we wrote The Vow to now, the way that women look at relationships has changed," notes Millner, who also co-wrote Steve Harvey's mammoth best seller Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man, which later went on to be the Will Packer-produced box office surprise Think Like a Man. "I see a lot of chatter about 'Why does this movie always have to be about women finding men?' 'Why does it always have to be about not being happy unless I have a man,'" Millner says. "I get that because, at the time that we wrote The Vow, relationships and particularly talking about how to have a solid relationship was still a big deal."

Millner says the topics and ideas that resonate in both the book and the film will never go out of style. "I think the main theme, which is sisterhood and friendship, will always be something that's timeless particularly to us," she insists. Both Burt-Murray and Millner agree that the ultimate message in both mediums is about finding yourself, "It's important to understand that black women can want to be in love," Burt-Murray says. "Black women can want to be in relationships. It's not making you weak. We are all social creatures. I'm not saying it should be the be-all-end-all, but finding love is a wonderful thing."

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